Hellish Fires, Mega Bears & Dead Bigamists

Sunday Signal

A warm and Western howdy to you, Time Ranger saddlepals. C’mon. Grab your tin cups of coffee, being careful not to spill. And no lattes or fruit smoothies while we ride. It’s affected.

We’ve a most interesting trail ride through one of the most historically significant and downright gee-whiz interesting corners of planet Earth — your Santa Clarita Valley.

Shall we mosey into the mystic?


AND IT’S STILL USED TODAY — On July 14, 1876, Chinese laborers completed work on one of the world’s largest train tunnels, linking the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys via a 6,940-foot tube.

COCKLE-DOODLE-DO — July 15, 1901, Rudolph Nickel publishes the first edition of The Acton Rooster. For many recent years, the Rooster was touted as the SCV’s first newspaper. Actually, Newhall had one in the 1870s. It published twice a month. No one can remember the name of it, though.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SINNY — The SCV’s last known speaker of the extinct Tataviam language, Sinforosa, was born on July 17, 1834. She died in 1915 and only a handful of words of the ancient tongue still exist.

SHAKING ALL OVER — A rather severe earthquake rattled much of Los Angeles County, including Newhall, on July 11, 1855.

ATSA BIG BEAR — Soledad pioneer John Lang kills what may have been the world’s largest grizzly bear on July 15, 1875. Author/historian Charles Outland reported witnesses quoting the beast tipping the cattle scales at 2,400 pounds with a 19-inch-diameter paw. There’s even a photo.

JULY 14, 1919

OUR FIRST BANK — Henry Clay Needham, local mucky muck and Newhall’s only serious presidential candidate, got the ball rolling on this date to start the first-ever Santa Clarita bank. Needham and those first trustees wanted to open their doors with just $25,000 capital. Eventually, they would become trustees in the local branch of the Bank of Italy, which would later become Bank of America. One near-trustee, Ed Brown (he would die a few months later) said he was tired of carting his savings over the hill into “the coffers of the bloated plutocrats.” Not to be confused with Minniecrats or Goofycrats.

CHILLING SIGNAL PROPHECY — A front-page Signal editorial condemned the growth of all factions of government, noting: “Twenty-five years ago, government was comparatively simple. We do know we are paying a lot more for needless office holders, and that despite the increase in wealth and population, taxes per capita are multiplied with every prospect of being multiplied more in the future.”

HOMESTEAD IN NEWHALL — Our congressman, C.H. Randall, noted that there was still plenty of acreage near the Santa Clarita Valley eligible for homesteading.

JULY 14, 1929

WILD AMERICA — While this isn’t completely local, it does fall under the category of pricking a hole in the bubble of nostalgia. America had 1,200 reported murders in 1928 — a rate 50 times more than Great Britain. Murders climbed 350 percent from 1900 to 1928.

COOL NAME — The thing that sticks out in this car theft tidbit is the perpetrator’s name. Gollos Shocker swiped a Ford in Modesto and got arrested in Newhall for his illegal touring. Gollos Shocker — sounds like a 400-pound rassler.

LIFE BEFORE AIR CONDITIONING — We suffered through another SCV heat wave. Back then, folks would beat the heat by jumping into watering holes or sitting on porches, fanning themselves. Mabel Boston noted it was 96 degrees inside the shade of her living room.

SPEAKING OF HOT DEALS — A three-room house in Saugus, complete with garage and water, rented for just $19.50 a month. Hope that Gollos Schocker guy didn’t move in…

JULY 14, 1939

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LIZ — Elizabeth Schlotman turned 100 sixty years ago today. She recalled one of the most difficult periods of her life — the Civil War. She was a bride in her mid-20s during that strife.

NEWHALLYWOOD — The movie companies practically took over the valley eight decades back. Hopalong Cassidy was filming “Medicine Show” in Placerita Canyon and just up Placerita Canyon, Tex Ritter was finishing up his oater, “Riders of the Rio Grande,” which should have been entitled, “Riders of Placerita Crick.” A few other films were being shot at Vasquez Rocks and up Sierra Highway.

JULY 14, 1949

HOBO? OR 4 LITTLE BOYS? —On this date, every able-bodied volunteer and paid fireman rushed out to stop a grass fire between Bermite and Bonelli Stadium. Four boys playing in the area said they saw a hobo running away from his campfire as it started to spread. Of course, it was 112 that day and one wonders what anyone was doing cooking anything outdoors in midday.

BOB GOT OFF EASY — Bob Cesena went on the warpath a half-century back at Cowboy Park. When a sheriff’s deputy suggested Bob go home and sleep off an evil drunk, Mr. Cesena laid into the officer, then got into a melee with three other gendarmes. When the smoke cleared, Cesena had beaten up three other cops and ripped their uniforms. He also nearly bit off one of the officer’s fingers. Price of his binge? Six months in jail, and the promise never to drink or fight again.

AIN’T NO MORE ROOM — Johnny Morales was one of the most popular folks in the valley, even more so when he announced he was going out of business. Johnny ran the township’s only trash dump and did a fine job of it, too. When his little barancha finally filled up with more refuse than it could hold, Johnny closed his business.

FUTURE 2001 SPACE ODYSSEY GUY — John Yurosek held a potluck dinner at his home for parents of his Boy Scout troop. John’s son, Gary, was in attendance. You might know Gary by his screen name. He’s the actor, Gary Lockwood.

JULY 14, 1959

MAJOR WHOOPS — How sick a feeling did Bob Langston have at the top of the old 5-Mile Grade? The teamster stopped at the top of the summit to rest his self and the motor to his double rig. He set the brake, kept the engine running and stuck a rock under a tire. He heard a grinding sound and turned to see his truck wobble downhill, gaining speed. It crashed a half-mile down the road, spilling 72,000 pounds of ripe watermelons all over Highway 99.

PAY ATTENTION ON THIS ONE — Summer T. Packard, local mucky muck, was shot to death by irate husband Elmer Engle. Focus here, saddlepals. Mr. Packard was apparently living a secret life. Packard had attempted to have his original wife committed to an insane asylum so he could take up permanently with his other wife, the former wife of Elmer Engle. Elmer got wind of the polygamy, blew Mr. Packard to doggie heaven then turned his pistola on himself. The first Mrs. Packard, who, by the way, was Miss Alabama 1929 and a Miss America finalist, was found completely sane. Excuse me. I must doff my hat and rub my head in that it hurts from explaining so much.

JULY 14, 1969

WE AIN’T LION — On this date, the world-famous Clarence died. Star of the movie, “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion” and several TV shows, the 600-pound male African lion used to live in Acton at the Africa USA compound. He was moved to Illinois after the epic floods of 1969 destroyed his home. He died at the age of 7.

END OF A JOURNALIST — The decomposed body of a young, dapper hotel clerk was found in San Francisquito Canyon 30 years ago. Jack Fairbrother, 22, former editor of the Valley College student newspaper and night clerk at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel, had been kidnapped after his post was robbed of $10,000.

YAY, MICKEY D.!!!!!!!! — Civilization visited Canyon Country on this date. The Board of Supervisors OK’d the construction of a McDonald’s at Luther and Soledad. One catch: no golden arches.

JUST LIKE A SUPERVISOR — Our county 5th District supe Warren Dorn flew in via helicopter for the groundbreaking ceremonies at North Oaks Park. Dorn was a half-hour late.

JULY 14, 1979

HELL ON EARTH — Statistically, it was just another big brush fire, 4,500 acres burned in Castaic and parts of Rye Canyon, buildings lost, hundreds of firefighters battling flames in 105-degree heat. But the actual scene was surrealistic. There were the tens of thousands of grasshoppers madly popping in the flames. There was the bobcat who leapt out of the smoke, ran up a tree, collapsed and fell to the ground, dead. There were the birds, tired from the flight and heat who landed on people’s arms and heads for rest. The fire was started by an inmate at Wayside Honor Rancho.

While we’ve been gone 100 years and more, it sure seems like a few minutes. Thanks for the company, dear Santa Clarita saddlepals. See you in seven with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then —vayan con Dios, amigos! 

John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Read his historical tome, “Images of America: The Santa Clarita Valley” on Amazon.com. Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on A1.

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